After studying the executive budget proposal released by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week, Jewish social service groups are giving his administration high marks for heeding their concerns about the city’s elderly.
"They have been enormously responsive," said William Rapfogel of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. He said officials have restored 80 percent of funding to a 29-year-old program, which had faced extinction under an earlier proposal. The extended services program provides referral and counseling for seniors through numerous community agencies under the Met Council umbrella.
"Those social workers are the first line of defense for people in need," said Rapfogel. The social workers refer clients to services offered by Met Council.
He cited a "very focused, collaborative effort" between Met Council and its parent, UJA-Federation, to call attention to the impact on seniors, and cooperation from administration officials, particularly Mark Shaw, deputy mayor for operations, and chief of staff Peter Madonia.
The city’s Department for the Aging has also reversed a plan to close three city-contracted senior centers run by the Jewish Association for Services to the Aged in Manhattan Beach and Coney Island, Brooklyn. A third center run by the agency will still be among those closed, but that site has yet to be finalized.
JASA’s executive vice chairman, David Stern, said DFTA commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago had "listened to the seniors, the elected officials and to JASA and on better reflection found better ways to achieve economy."
But JASA remains concerned about a proposed two percent cut in senior funding, as well as the possibility of a forced one-week "furlough," in which centers would close and workers would not be paid. Stern said the centers were already running severe deficits because of increased costs. "What may happen is that these programs will simply become lunch programs, with no activities, recreation or transportation," he said.
At a Gracie Mansion breakfast meeting with Jewish media Friday, Bloomberg said charitable organizations would have to play a greater role in filling gaps in social-services funding. "Private philanthropy is going to have to step in," said the mayor.
Ron Soloway, UJA-Federation’s top governmental relations official, said funding to the elderly had been "our No. 1 priority." But he remains concerned about an afterschool program partially funded by the private sector that may lose millions in city matching funds.
A bigger concern is the discretionary funding doled out through the 51 City Council members to projects and institutions in their districts. Although negotiations between the Council and administration have barely begun, a decrease of more than $5 million for such programs has been proposed. Bloomberg has also asked the five borough presidents, who also distribute discretionary funds, to reduce their expenses by 20 percent.
Those cuts could be serious trouble for COJOs, Jewish community centers and other organizations who suffered a major blow when discretionary funding from state legislators was cut by $300 million last year.
"One of our most important priorities is the restoration of this funding," said Soloway. "In this difficult time, we can’t expect that every one of our needs will be met. But there has been an open door in the mayor’s office, and the same has been true on the Council side."
The state’s new legislative districts were signed into law by Gov. George Pataki Monday night. But it may be months before all the dust settles.
The Senate map, in a third draft, places Borough Park, Brooklyn, into only two districts, rather than five under the last plan. An outcry from the neighborhood and its elected officials, as well as the governor and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, brought about the latest revision.
The final plan creates a new district in Brooklyn, the 21st, and sets up a scramble for a rare, no-incumbent contest. Former Councilman Noach Dear has all but declared, while Lori Citron Knipel, a Flatbush district leader, declared her candidacy Tuesday. Although it includes most of Borough Park, the new district will be only about 27 percent white, a far cry from the previous, majority-Jewish district that insiders said was uniquely suited for Dear.
Elsewhere in the city, a gerrymandered district to boost Latino voting power could spell trouble for the Upper West Side’s Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat and GOP gadfly, while the heavily chasidic neighborhood of Williamsburg now finds itself in the district of Martin Connor, the Senate minority leader.
In Queens, State Senator Daniel Hevesi has reportedly decided not to seek re-election rather than face his colleague, Toby Stavisky, in a match-up for a merged district. Hevesi didnít return calls, but sources say a deal was cut with Queens Democratic boss Tom Manton to support Hevesiís father Alan for state comptroller in exchange for an easy re-election for Stavisky.
Jewish political observers were pleased with the outcome. "While the lines are not perfect, the efforts of the governor and Sen Dean Skelos are greatly appreciated," said David Pollock, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, chaired the redistricting committee.
Mayor Bloomberg has opposed efforts to close the Palestinian observer mission to the United Nations here, saying the city had to defer to the world body on such matters.
But inviting Palestinian diplomats to Gracie Mansion is another story. They were not among the 200 mission representatives who gathered Monday night at the East Side residence (used by Bloomberg only for ceremonies) for a reception with the mayor.
"ìMayor Bloomberg understands that certain responsibilities come with being the host city of the U.N.," said City Hall spokesman Ed Skyler. "But that does not extend to inviting representatives of terrorist organizations to the people’s house."
The guest list was compiled by Majorie Tiven, commissioner of the city’s Commission for the United Nations Consular Corps and Protocol, who is the mayor’s sister.
Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, at the request of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, spiked a planned hearing of the resolution calling for the mission’s ouster.
That prompted Dear and his Borough Park colleague, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, to blast the decision. In an interview, Hikind called Miller "a spineless jellyfish." He added: "They didn’t want to interfere with the peace process? What peace process?î"
The measure was sponsored by Councilman Oliver Koppel of the Bronx. He said through a spokesman that he was willing to wait for a vote on the measure while ceasefire negotiations were underway, "but not indefinitely."
A similar measure has been introduced in Albany by Senator Seymour Lachman of Brooklyn and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz of the Bronx. Both the state and city initiatives were started by Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
A separate Senate resolution proposed by Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn last week would condemn terrorist violence in Israel and declare support for the Jewish state. Unlike the Council, the state legislature rarely passes resolutions on foreign matters.
Mayor Bloomberg is talking tough when it comes to the safety and security of Jews in New York.
"Rest assured that security at all houses of worship and gathering places has been improved by the NYPD," the mayor told reporters Friday, when asked about the wave of anti-Semitic attacks sweeping across Europe, and whether they could spread here. "If you’re a bad guy and you’re thinking about doing something … that guy standing next to you with a ponytail will be on top of you so quick it will make your head spin.î"
He was apparently referring to undercover cops.